By Andrew Berthoff
I’ve worked in or, rather, with the Canadian technology industry for more than 20 years, first from the perspective of a journalist following and reporting on the scene, and then as a communications professional working alongside it.
Over the years I’ve worked with tech companies of every size and scope, from Fortune 50 enterprises to first-year start-ups; from B2C to channel to B2B and every sales model in between. And through all that every new client is a brand new experience.
Or, make that a new brand experience.
With a marketing hat on, I see Canadian tech companies – both native and foreign-owned subsidiaries – with a big picture perspective. As a journalist my perceptions of an organization were guided by the same tenets.
To me, the most successful tech organizations, almost without fail, understand the long-view horizon of their market when they communicate with their target audiences. Conversely, those that constantly dwell on speed and feeds and price look for short-term success. The marketing, messaging and communications strategies can be polar opposites.
Much has been said about the fickle loyalty of today’s customers. While I agree that allegiances change perhaps more easily than before, I also believe that loyalty is derived from organizations having a long-range view of their market. A consistent communications strategy that matches long-term corporate goals pays long-range dividends.
Let’s take a look at a few examples from the past in which companies don’t talk about product features directly, but instead connect with existing and potential customers by bolstering what their company and products represent.
From a recent IT Business article, New Microsoft ad campaign lives in shadow of Apple’s “1984” commercial, James Sherret, CEO of AdHack, a BC-based advertising agency, commented about Apple’s famous “1984” ad, “People talked about how it broke with conventions and it established Apple as a rebel or the upstart in the marketplace. It positioned the brand very clearly as creative free-thinkers.” Apple didn’t talk about attributes; just a big-picture vision of what the world could be, with the inference that their company could take them there.
The company still hardly talks about features – and never, ever about price – today. Like Starbucks, it’s the experience you want to be a part of, not necessarily the great coffee: this iPhone video communiqué states that “a revolutionary product comes along that changes everything, and it simply shows what the product can do without actually going in to detail. They want audiences to want the experience, not just the features.
Companies that in the past have trotted out products by stressing features or price as key differentiators are many. You may even work with one. I remember the launch of Windows 95. Microsoft used celebrities du jour from the sitcom Friends. It was a cool thing to do, but the organization chose to have them dwell heavily on features, rather than the over-arching vision of the Win95 platform. Compare that approach with the Windows 7 Party launch. There’s almost no mention of speeds and feeds. Instead, they want to communicate a simple vision: making everyday tasks simpler.
The two organizations are of course greatly successful. But, originally, one wanted you to buy a product, while the other generally wanted you to join – and stay with – a club. Microsoft, as evidenced with the Windows 7 campaign, has taken a much more experiential brand tack.
If you look around today’s Canadian tech market you can see examples of companies taking opposite communications strategies. Some companies have built a solid business on marketing the technological benefits of their current product-line. They specifically tout the latest and greatest, neglecting to bolster their brand with a big-picture perspective of the horizon. Eventually, this approach tends to catch up with them when they fail to impress with a new product.
Conversely, companies that have the technology, but bolster the brand by defining the future tend to have long-term loyalty, even when a new product misses the mark. It’s an emphasis on long-range gain over short-term fame.
As a business, what’s your approach?
Andrew Berthoff is a senior vice-president with Environics Communications, a leading communications and public relations agency based in Toronto, serving, among other sectors, the Canadian technology industry. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org